Apple adds direct web downloads to EU's app distribution options

Plus clarification of their rules makes it plain that app stores can only ever feature apps made by that store's owner

Apple adds direct web downloads to EU's app distribution options

Having previously revealed their plans to adhere with the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (which came into force last week) Apple came in for criticism of their new measures which - many say - only pay lip service to the new law. Certainly, on the surface, Apple’s plans appear to be focused on maintaining the same level of fees that they’ve always enjoyed, while making it measurably harder (though at least possible) for publishers and developers to break away from the Apple App Store exclusivity iOS has offered up until now.

Today, however there appears to be a tiny chink of concession in Apple’s armour, perhaps due to ongoing EU legal scrutiny and vocal criticism from the likes of longterm sparring partner, Epic Games.

Earlier today Apple quietly announced further app distribution options for European developers in a post on Apple’s developer website, outlining “More options for apps distributed in the European Union”, most notable of which being Apple's provision for the downloading of apps direct from web pages - no app store required.

Coming this spring…

It’s arguable as to whether the latest changes are actually “more options” or simply a clarification of the existing plans and rules they put in place post-DMA introduction.

In addition to the new 'download from the web' option the other most interesting new provision is the fact that ‘alternative app stores’ on iOS - that is, apps that facilitate the loading and installing of other apps (and one of the most exciting and interesting changes that the DMA has forced) - will be limited to only featuring apps produced by the maker of that app store.

I.e. Yes, you can create an app store to sit alongside Apple’s App Store, but purely as a vehicle to provide your OWN apps to users, rather than being able to run a rival shop and poach multiple devs and publishers away from Apple’s familiar walled garden.

It's unclear as to whether this particular dealbreaker was actually part of the Apple's original broader plans or has been quietly added today as a caveat. The message being that devs may install their apps on iOS - as the DMA requires - but only THEIR apps, making plain for the first time Apple’s intentions to preclude and shut down any other party who might be thinking of opening up and running a true rival to the App Store. (Epic and Steam, we’re looking at you…)

Direct from the web… If you make the grade

And in a further update coming ‘this spring’, developers will be able to load apps from web pages in the browser, potentially making it even easier to get an app onto iOS and a move very much in the spirit of the kind of freedom that the EU’s DMA wanted Apple to make real and which has been lacking in Apple's provisions thus far.

It should be noted however, that such power is only being rolled out to developers with at least two years of continued, unproblematic and obedient service on iOS… And those who have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.

Thus, is this for big players only.

Such a move can be legitimately seen as a cautious, protective measure on Apple's part. Rather than letting any webpage inject code onto devices, only sites from legitimate 'law abiding' big-name existing developers are allowed. It's also worth pointing out that, from the letter of the new terms, the requirement for devs to have been a member of the Apple Developer Program for at least two unbroken years means - of course - sorry Epic, thanks to being naughty in the past, you’re out…

Your name's not down. You're not coming in

Also Apple's requirement for 'notorization' - asking for permission from Apple with Apple holding the power to grant or withhold such abilities - still stands. “Apps offered through Web Distribution must meet Notarization requirements to protect platform integrity, like all iOS apps, and can only be installed from a website domain that the developer has registered in App Store Connect,” explains Apple.

Of course, Apple are pinning such measures (read: restrictions) on the need to prevent untrusted, new, third parties potentially blowing open the security that iOS has enjoyed since day one. And - at the time of writing - it remains to be seen as to whether these new restrictions will be challenged by the EU or - as per Apple’s first plans (in which they rejigged fees in order to still get paid) - simply pass unchallenged, into being.

Make your own splash screens and 'warnings'

A less contentious new addition is Apple’s apparent renaging on their previous insistence regarding messaging to iOS users highlighting the ‘risky’ nature of their actions should they find themselves compelled to leave Apple’s App Store and trust someone else’s app with control over their phone.

After thoughtfully providing example splash screens within iOS (which would scare any users to death) it seems that the use of such pages is now ‘optional’. In the latest wording released today developers “can choose how to design promotions, discounts, and other deals.” with no requirement to use Apple’s templates within the EU.

One thing that hasn’t been touched, changed or further explained however remain Apple's intended fees which essentially provide the same level of payment into Apple while obfuscating the process of bypassing Apple's App Store (and taking advantage of the new openness that the DMA has provided) as much as possible.

If this part of Apple's plans remains unchanged it becomes questionable as to whether anyone will bother making any kind of rival app store at all. Which is likely exactly what Apple planned from the start.

Editor -

Daniel Griffiths is a veteran journalist who has worked on some of the biggest entertainment media brands in the world. He's interviewed countless big names, and covered countless new releases in the fields of videogames, music, movies, tech, gadgets, home improvement, self build, interiors and garden design. Yup, he said garden design… He’s the ex-Editor of PSM2, PSM3, GamesMaster and Future Music, ex-Deputy Editor of The Official PlayStation Magazine and ex-Group Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Musician, Guitarist, Guitar World, Rhythm, Computer Music and more. He hates talking about himself.